Results tagged ‘ Jim Hickey ’

My Picks for the Top 20 Rays Photos of 2010, Part 1

 

Most people know I took the blinders off this years and decided to do more photography before , during and after the Tampa Bay Rays game. With the media changing every day, I decided it was better to have a multi-faceted approach than to just sit back and write a blog and hope the someone in the photographer’s well got the same photos.

Being an amateur photographer (but getting better with every shoot), I decided to try and throw together two different posts to include my top 20 photos that I personally took from the Rays 2010 season. Today I am going to include the bottom ten (11-20) of my Top 20 2010 photos. Tomorrow’s post will have my Top 10 overall photos. These photos are not arranged or selected based on just the photo taken. Some have interesting back stories or reasons I feel they are in this top echelon of pictures taken during the 2010 year.

These photos will go from the day that Pitcher’s and Catcher’s reported to Port Charlotte, Florida this season, through Spring Training, and ultimately conclude with a Rays post season airport celebration photo. They will not however be any of the 2010 Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert series photos.

I decided to do another post in the next few days with my top 2 photos from each of the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series concerts that I got to shoot down in front of the stage in 2010.


Considering I have no training or experience before this season taking photo except for a 7th Grade Photo class back at Tyrone Junior High ( they weren’t called Middle Schools then), I think my under 340 dollar old Fuji camera can sometimes get some pretty good shots. That being said, let’s get right to the top numbers 11-20 photos that I picked to include in this end of the season package.

 

Photo # 20 is a crowd photo taken from my seat region during the Rays annual Parks and Recreation Days that can fill Tropicana Field with over 15,000+ children all using the Rays Thunderstix either for crowd noise or for their own personal sword fights. Reason this is one of my favorite photos is the fact this is the day that Royals starter Zack Grienke complained about the “circus atmosphere” within the dome and it was all because of these great kids doing their part all game long.

 

Photo # 19 was taken during one of the St. Petersburg Times Sunday Fun Days when Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey decided to commandeer the Rays mascot Raymond’s All Terrain Vehicle during the Rays pre-game/ Hickey actually rode the ATV around for a few minutes, usually in a circle around Raymond before he got back to his regular Coaching duties before the game. Raymond finally got his ATV back, which he uses to entice the crowd excitement before the beginning of the Rays game, but it was great to see someone get the better of the blue fuzzy one for once.


 

Photo # 18 was taken at Bright House Network Field up in Clearwater, Florida during the Rays versus Phillies Spring Training game. In the photo we see Rays infielder Elliott Johnson chatting with a small ballplayer who just got done throwing a bit of pre-game warm-ups with Johnson for about 10 minutes. I found this photo intriguing knowing that Johnson hold small instruction lessons and camps with kids in the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina area when he has been up playing with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls.


 

Photo # 17 was taken during the first day that Pitchers and Catchers’ reported to the Rays Port Charlotte complex back in February 2010. So many people do not get to see this side of Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg as a big a fan as the rest of us. But also, he is always a gracious and hospitable guy who is more than willing to chat baseball or even sign for the Rays faithful fans. I consider Sternberg one of the most accessible owners in baseball, and his Carolina Blue sweater is usually a key element to his game day wardrobe


 

Photo # 16 is a unique photo of Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi putting the finishing touches on an inter-locking ” T B ” logo that the Rays Bullpen put on the back of the Rays Bullpen mound during the 2010 season. Not sure why the symbol did not get adapted or formulated for the Rays main pitching mound in 2010, but possibly it is just a experimental thing being done to see if they can duplicate some of the mound MLB team logo impressions. Like the tell-tale “A” of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


 

Photo # 15 is special to me because it is the only photo of Rays left-handed reliever J P Howell in his Rays “whites” in 2010. This photo was taken on the Rays Opening Night and was the last time Howell would put on a Rays uniform and stroll down to the Rays Bullpen in 2010. It was a significant loss when Howell went down with shoulder fatigue, and then went under season ending surgery. I have gotten word Howell is doing great in his rehabilitation and should be ready to go in Spring 2011.


 

Photo # 14 was also taken at Bright House Field in Clearwater during the Rays versus Phillies game this Spring. During the middle of the 7th inning after Grant Balfour was done doing his side running in the outfield, he came over and signed for the Rays crowd for a few minutes before popping into the Rays dugout. Always find it interesting and exciting to see the pitchers’ after their outings running on the outfield

Warning track during Spring Training. Wonder if any of them have either been hit by a batted ball, or accidentally became involved with a ball in play?

 

Photo # 13 was taken on the night Rays closer Rafael Soriano set a new Rays save record. Just like thousands of Rays fans, I wanted to know what Soriano writes on the back of the pitching mound so many times during his outings. But it is a Soriano trade secret. I did take a photo however of his cap at one game and finally figured out that he has a bit of a cheat sheet in his cap to help him with hitters he faces on the mound. Going to be hard to find someone to duplicate Soriano’s dominance this season,.


 

Photo # 12 was one of my Zorilla Gorilla photos that I took one Sunday afternoon when the Rays were out of town on a road trip and someone within the Rays front office got me a few of the gorillas’ to put in some unique poses. This photo was taken at Lake Seminole Park in central Pinellas County on a sign by one of their great smaller lakes within the complex. The sign just seemed so perfect. Had a blast that day hitting over a dozen different locales taking photos that I submitted to the Rays.


 

Photo # 11 was taken after one of the many extra innings games by the Rays this season. It was actually a 1-0 win over the New York Yankees thanks to Reid Brignac’s walk-off Home Run. The Rays mascot Raymond always has a few interesting costumes he changes into during the game, but this pajama and nightcap ensemble always gets me laughing. I know that we do not have Spider-Raymond or Rally Raymond costume in-house anymore, but this night time Raymond just needs bunny slippers and it is perfect.

Hope you enjoyed the bottom ten of my Top 20 photos taken during the Rays 2010 season. Do not forget to stop by again tomorrow as I post my personal Top 10 photos that I got to take druing the 2010 season.

Half an Inch can be a Huge Difference

 

 

They say that hitting a baseball is one of the hardest thing to do in sports, but I beg to differ. I think the hardest thing to do ever in sports is to thread a breaking pitch within that segmented half inch space with respect to velocity and depth. Think about I here for a second, if a thrown ball by a professional pitcher is even a half an inch high or inside, it can be the catalyst for a 3-run homer, or go the complete opposite and be a routine foul ball out caught by an infielder or catcher.


That is why I think a pitched ball, perfectly thrown to a designated spot with a certain purpose in mind can be one of the most energizing and most stressful actions in sports. Simply put, if you hit the mark with your desired velocity and break, it is a pitch even the MLB’s current legendary slugger Ichiro Suzuki might see his knees buckle as it crosses the keystone of Home Plate.

Over the last two games, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen more than enough of this pitching perfection. Some want to throw the Rays hitters’ under the bus for their lack of confidence or even bravado to swing at a pitch outside of the zone and try and make something happen in these first two games of the American League Divisional Series. But the truth is that both of the Texas Rangers starter ( both lefties) had that formula going spot on for them in those first two contests, and the Rays were left just gasping at the plate.

Time for blunt honesty here. This 2010 Rays team has had seen a great plane of movement between their moments of grand glory and their plummets of utter defeat this season. The 2010 season looks more like a EKG chart than a solidified and unified correlation of consistent patterns or results. The Rays have scored 7-runs in their half of an inning, or gone 27 outs without a single hit.

In both hitting aspects, the solid and visual truth is that their opposing pitchers either were fighting for their velocity and control, or threading the needle with perfection. It could have been lucky guessing or even the intelligence of accumulated statistics and probabilities that aided the Rays, but now they are left naked and vulnerable by their latest fiascos.

Hitting and pitching is a simple process that has been over analyzed over dramatized and in effect taken a huge part of the human element and flushed it completely out of the equation.

But within that de-humanizing effect, the game has gone beyond the simple battle of pitcher and hitter now and transcended to a bigger more elaborate battle. Team now employ Video Coordinators and extra personnel to just label, adjust and formulate pitching charts, tendencies and even a probability chart to show what pitch a certain pitcher might use in the given situation, or with base runners in scoring position. No longer is it all as simple as throwing the ball or hitting it with a bat.

The simple art of pitching has now been transformed into quadrants and formulas that employ pitching to contact or trying get a groundball for defensive play to get out of an inning where in the past, a pitcher would just be un-democratic and just try to strike you out. As our lives have gotten complicated, so has the game we all know and love. Mechanics are videotaped and scrutinized for the smallest advantage or the optimum time for a runner to try and take an extra base.


 

Facial expressions and body language are studied closely hoping to provide keys or tip-offs within the usual body ticks and odd movements to see if you can get a remote advantage, or provide a key indicator of a certain pitch leaving a pitcher’s hand. Science has invaded the game, and it is only going to get worst.


When ALDS Game 1 starter Cliff Lee got 10 strikeouts and shut down the Rays in his 7 innings of work, the press and the accolades went to Lee, not the thousands of man hours evaluating tapes, motions and possible keys. The physical human target got the praise and the applause, but beneath it all science and the ever growing eye of video might have also played a unique role in the end result.

When C J Wilson took the mound on Thursday afternoon and sliced and diced the Rays with fine precision, unseen measures had to have given him a edge, an instant clue as to what the ever patient Rays might do to gain and advantage or put am money wrench in his rhythm. Pitching as evolved in present day from going to the hill every five days to countless hours of studying and dissecting hitters and their tendencies.

Lee has to have studied game tape of his opposition and formulated a plan of attack within his mind and on paper. Both Wilson and Lee used breaking ball hugging the outside corner to entice and get the Rays salivating, but if either had thrown that pitch an inch up or inside, a different outcome could have quickly materialized and Texas would be behind the big black 8-ball right now. Simply put, the Rangers guessed right, and the Rays went back to instinct and not technology to try and rattle the Texas two-some.

The Rangers played their pitching guessing game to perfection over the last two games. They got the usually patient Rays to chase pitches and get out of synch with their commonplace routines at the plate. Breaking pitches with an extra half inch depth or pitches hugging the black of the Home Plate keystone were the keys to this first two games of this ALDS series. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always stresses that “Pitching sets the tone of the game”.

Such has been very true the first two games of this series, and if the Rays even expect to get back into this fight with any vigor and realistic chances of rattling the Rangers pitching foundations, they will have to maybe re-evaluate their present hitting procedures and maybe go “on-the-fly” a bit more and make a few rogue swings. I thought it was humorous the other day when the Rays Evan Longoria called Game 2 a “Must Win” situation for his Rays comrades.

Reality of that quote is that in whether it is a 5-game or 7-game series, getting an early jump on your competition takes the pressure off your pitching staff and puts it firmly in the opposition and adjust, reconfigure and retaliate to get back into the series. Sure the Rays did not go about their usual hitting sprees or even remotely display the talent and abilities we have grown to love out of this Rays machine.

 

Now it is time for the Rays to establish, recognize and attack the Rangers pitching staff starting tomorrow when the Rangers send right-hander Colby Lewis to the hill in Arlington, Texas. They will have to deeply analyze the young rightie hoping to find a clue and subtle giveaway to his pitches, or face a possibility on a early exit in the 2010 post season.


Right now I can see Rays Video Coordinator Chris “Chico” Fernandez deep within a Dallas/Fort Worth hotel room along with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton looking for the answers to some huge Rays hitting question marks. But in the end it will come down to a few precious half inches of depth or velocity. If the Rangers execute their game plan again with precision and efficiency, the Texas triangle could de doing the two-step by 9 pm.

But if the Rays devote themselves and figure out that half inch, that slight deviation at the plate, then they could gain their own valuable inch towards getting back into this ALDS. Funny how a half an inch could either send the Rays home in defeat or give them another chance to change their destiny. The distance between to fingers held together could decide this ALDS either way.

Can You pick Potential over Experience Right Now?

 


 

During Spring Training this season the Tampa Bay Rays starters boasted about possibly having a 1,000 inning staff. One where each member of the five man rotation could possible toss 200 innings by themselves. Even in speech, this seemed like a far fetched adventure at best. But could their 1,000 inning goal actually have cost these starters some of their effectiveness and possibly one of them a solid spot on the Rays post season roster?


As of today (Saturday, October 2) the combined innings total of all five of the Rays original 2010 starters is 950.1 innings, a bit short of their proposed 1,000 inning adventure. Three of the Rays starters did post above 200+ innings this season, James Shields (207.2), Matt Garza (204.2) and David Price (203.2). Impressive numbers by execution, but at what cost would this bold pitching bravado cost the Rays?

Simply, it might have cost them a American League East title. Yesterday I wrote about 3 wins could have kept the drama and suspense out of this weekend, but in reality, if this Rays starting staff had won a single game each over the year, the celebration during the home stand would have been a two-night extravaganza. But that is hindsight, a lost opportunity to seal their deal before this final weekend.

But now, as the Rays starters have basically thrown their last pitches of the 2010 regular season, you have to wonder who might be either shut down or sent to a possible long reliever role in the Rays Bullpen for the post season. I have a guess on who might have thrown their last pitch this season, but I will keep you in your own suspense until the end. One thing is for sure, when the Rays shut down Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann for a brief time in 2010, it provided another interesting fold in the Rays pitching saga.

 

During that short period of time, one Rays pitcher seemed to gain some strength and control in the time off, while another simply seemed to go South in his location and command and is just now starting to recover. Davis, a solid A L Rookie of the Year candidate as a pitcher is currently leading the A L Rookie class in several categories and looks like the pitcher to beat. Davis will probably not win the award, but his solid year shows he was the right pitcher to hold onto while the Rays sent Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in 2009.


But then you have a sorted drama of Niemann over the last few months where you never knew what kind of pitching performance you were going to get on a given night. But the Tall Texan did finally find a level of consistency over the last few starts that might garner him a chance to pitch in the post season, but not sure if it is from the Bullpen or a fourth spot in the Rays condensed rotation yet. We already know three names that will be included as starters in the Rays post season package.

Instantly you know that Garza, Price and Davis have shown not only the goods to pitch in the post season, but the control and the ability together solid outs when needed. But from there it gets a bit tricky to me. Maybe it is because we have relied on this one pitcher for so long, and now I am not even sure he did not throw his last game ever as a Ray last night.

 

James Shields has gone in my mind from “Big Game James” to “What (a) Shame James” in his past three starts. Something is wrong here, not sure if it is three straight seasons of over 200+ innings finally got to his arm, or if the Rays oldest starter just finally ran out of tricks in his assorted pitching bag and has no more deviations in his pitching right now. And this is the guy you always counted on for the big wins or the great outing, and now I am not even sure I can count on him for a relief appearance.


Some have said that “Shields is just unlucky right now, and that his stuff will come back in time“. There is a small phrase in there that gets me worried, “in Time“. I really think that right now the Rays do not have the “time” to play and hope that Shields will rebound and get his mojo back on the mound. We are down to a point where each start has to be a quality start, or a potential series and a early trip home is in the balance.

During the post season, the Rays can not send a question mark to the mound, they have to send an exclamation point to the hill this post season. The Rays can not shade their bets by banking on Shields past, they have to look at his present state and wonder if he has anything left in the tank to propel the Rays skywards instead of into the dark abyss. Last night’s dismal outing showed that team’s have figured Shields out. That they are sitting on that once silky smooth change-up and pounding it with all their might.

Sure Shields is still gambling and mixing up his pitches, but his fastball and curveball are all hittable recently, that leaves guys sitting on his bankable pitch, the change-up and they are driving it all over the ballpark right now. This doesn’t mean Shields is done as a Rays starter, but the Rays have to make a tough decision this off season as to a spot for Jeremy Hellickson, and right now Shields and his $ 4.25 million reasons makes him an odd man out if the team needs to find a tradable commodity to get “Hellboy” a rotation spot.


Even with Neimann hitting a rough patch late in the 2010 season, Niemann is still under team control for a bit while Shields is hitting the big money portion of his contract. In a time of fiscal response and lowering the payroll, Shields has a target directly on his wallet right now, and he can be considered the definite odd man out. But the bad news might not end there for Shields.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might have to dialogue long and hard over the next few days to come to a concrete decision on if Shield has enough stuff to contribute in the American League Divisional Series. They Rays will need at least a 3-man, and possibly a 4-man rotation going into the ALDS. That could lead to a tough decision on if Niemann or Shields gives you the best possible chance to win and garner an advantage if either was sent to the Rays Bullpen.

If I had to make that decision right now, it would be Niemann. And it has nothing to do with the past accolades or even future potential. I just think Shields needs to take a step back and rest, relax and gain control of his pitching and himself right now. This doesn’t mean he can not be added to the American League Championship Series if the Rays advance, but right now, a rested Shields is a future asset for the Rays. The current Shields model just looks tired and run into the ground hard.

The past few weeks we have seen some horrendous and some fantastic pitching performances come from the Rays staff. It has me scratching my head a bit as to the extent of why we are failing right now. Every pitcher on the Rays staff from starter to bullpen is tired and have a few aches and pains, but could the bravado of the Rays wanting to post a 1,000 inning season by its top five starters actually have been their late season downfall?


A few of the Rays starters still have that zip to their pitches, another is finding his way back, and yet another has seen his stuff go from unpredictable to constantly looking backwards, then receiving a fresh ball from the Umpire. Garza and Price have been impressive and unyielding to the opposition at times this season. Davis has established his claim as a future solid member of this Rays rotation. Niemann is getting back into his groove while Shields might be fighting a more internal battle than an external one right now.
 
The time is now for the tough decisions on either Shields or Niemann. One was a member of the 2008 post season Rays Bullpen, and the other got his first MLB taste as a reliever against the Florida Marlins this Summer. The choice will be difficult, the choice could be costly, but most of all the choice could signal a change in the Rays pitching hierarchy. Do you go with the wily veteran currently having some issues, or do you rely on the young gun who has been consistent all year? Glad I am not a Rays staffer right now.

Rays do not Need this Type of “Quall-ity”

  

 

When the Tampa Bay Rays first acquired Chad Qualls from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the end of the Trade Deadline, I thought a change of scenery might be just the thing for him. You know the drill, a change of venue can bring about a change in attitude and also confidence. Plus Qualls was coming to a team that boasted a former team mate (Dan Wheeler) and a Pitching Coach (Jim Hickey) back from when Qualls used to be a sub 3.50 ERA machine. But for some reason know, I am thinking we got a dose of quantity over quality so far.


Sure it was great for Qualls to exit stage right in a hurry from the Diamondbacks, especially considering Qualls had posted a 8.29 ERA over his 43 appearances and only produced 12 saves in 16 opportunities. But the Rays did not bring Qualls here to be an 8th inning set-up man, they brought him here to establish a bit of groundball dominance on a team whose defense wins them games.

As I mentioned before, Qualls accumulated his high ERA (8.29) in only 38 total innings with the Diamondbacks while also giving up a grand total of 61 hits,41 runs and 5 Homers during his stay in the hot desert Sun. I was curious to see if Qualls had actually gotten better since his departure from the Diamondbacks and actually discovered Qualls really might just be more quantity than quality right now, even for the Rays.

Over his last 10 appearances, Quall has seen his ERA bounce from a 7.43 ERA to a 8.20 ERA, coming extremely close to his pre-D-back days. And these stats come from his last 10 Rays appearances, and could be a clue the Rays might have gotten a bit duped by acquiring Qualls. He has pitched 11.2 innings in his last 10 appearances, which include giving up a total of 13 hits and 8 runs while blowing 2 save opportunities. But that is not the most alarming stat. The fact Qualls has given up 6 walks against 7 strikeouts tends to point to Qualls might not be a better addition to the Rays Bullpen than a guy from Triple-A right now.

 

And that is huge when you are in the stretch run trying to catch back up to the New York Yankees and solidify your Bullpen with a playoff mentality. Even more disheartening for Rays fans might be the pure fact he has been a disaster against left-handed hitters since his trade to the Rays. Qualls has thrown 4.1 innings against lefties this year and has blown his 2 save against them, plus bolstered a 14.54 ERA left-handers and a .421 opponents batting average. An accent mark on the whole scenario is Qualls has given up his only Home Run to a left-hander while with the Rays.


But even with all these negative stats floating over Qualls head, he does have a few positives to build on here. Against right-handers, Qualls has posted an impressive 1.23 ERA ( .208 average) with 6 strikeouts. Tends to make you think he will be only posted against right-handed batters the rest of the way through the season. Another sign that Qualls might be finally adjusting back to his old self is the fact Qualls posted a 5.06 ERA for the month of August, his best month of the 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Even with that little ray of sunshine peeking out with his August stats, his September has gotten off on the really rough footing. Right now in his lone appearance of September, Qualls has given up 4 hits and 2 earned run in his only inning of work against the Orioles on Sunday. Boost another fact clear into the light that Qualls has a 13.50 ERA against Boston in his career (1.1 innings), and you get a little more for the Rays to worry about if Qualls takes the mound in this critical series in Fenway Park.

 

Could yesterdays appearance against the Orioles where Qualls entered the game with a Rays 6-5 lead, but did not register an out, and instantly surrendered 2 hits and walk. Qualls also saw two of the inherited men on base score along with two credited to him in this brief outing. Kind of shovels a level of dirt over his last 6 prior appearances, which were scoreless. His 2010 opponents batting average of .351 is the highest among Major League relievers. Adding more dirt to the pile is the fact his 7.79 combined ERA is also the highest among Major League relievers.


Hopefully we will see a reduced role with Qualls over the rest of the season, and that his name was not on the original post season roster submitted by the Rays to MLB on August 31st. Qualls might have some use between today and October 4th, but he should not be added or even considered for the post season roster. And it is a pity that the pitcher who posted a career high mark of 24 saves and led all Major League relievers with a 1.21 BB/9IP ratio and 6.43 SO/9IP ratio has seen his career this season plunder into the darkness.

But it is time Rays. It is time to admit the trade was not going to pan out and cut our losses before something drastic happens, or we lose another game at the hand of Qualls. And it is a real shame that his pitching “Quall-ity” did not bring more success for the Rays as we saw plenty of quantity runs scored against him.

Matt Garza….Mind Freak?

 
 
Lloyd Fox/Balti Sun
Bravado and baseball seem to go together like a ball and a glove. They both have their rightful place in the scheme of things, and both can immediately set the tone or environment for the way the game will be played. So it is not rare that once in a while a player, or even a pitcher will spout out their wisdom through their vocal chords instead of first proving their notions out on the field of play.

And that same instance happened recently during the lull between Batting Practice and before Rays starter Matt Garza took the mound this past Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. Garza, who gave up an uncharacteristic 4 Home Runs during his last outing against the Orioles let off a full head of his internal steam by telling some of the beat reporters encircling the Rays clubhouse looking for a story that he wanted to shove it (the ball) down their (Orioles) throats” during his upcoming outing.

And after Garza’s comments, reporters immediately sought out a member of the Orioles for their comments. Garza ended up actually getting a pretty unusual figure in his corner for his outrageous pre-game comments. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter actually understood the broad shouldered intention and the competitive nature and passion of Garza’s statements, and basically shrugged off the statements as someone just letting off the steam of a bad prior outing with a few choice words.
Showalter told a swarm of reporter’s before Friday night game:

“There’s a lot of people that feel that way they just don’t say it publicly. So what’s the difference? A lot of them feel that way. Certainly you got a pitcher (Garza) that was a real break from the norm. Pitchers do have a memory plus guys that pitch once every fifth day like that. I think it’s something a lot of guys feel. I think the difference is from what you tell me, and what I’ve been exposed
to, he just did it publicly. It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

Surprising to me was the way Garza seemed to surprise some players amongst the Orioles with his pre-game comments. Here was a power pitcher who came into that night’s game as one of the most frequent fastball hurlers in the American League, who suddenly went another direction and threw more breaking balls for strikes during his outing than almost any other time in his brief Major League career.

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

Could Garza have actually been trying to provide a few tasty and misguided morsels for the Orioles to digest with the Orioles hitters more than eager to get to the plate hoping that Garza threw his heat towards the plate, but instead he circumvented his usual style and went 180 degree against his norm by throwing mostly off-speed and breaking pitches. Could Garza have provided a little incentive for the Orioles to come out looking for his fastball, and instead Garza gave them a dose of not too subtle reverse psychology that worked to his advantage with flying colors.

Might Hickey and Rays Manager Joe Maddon instituted a little psychological bait and switch by circumventing Garza’s game plan by throwing a large dose of breaking stuff during that night’s outing?
I want to believe that the Rays game plan mysteriously changed after Garza’s hostile comments, but I can clearly see it being a clever diversion by the spitting Cobra and his Manager to bolster his increasing frustrations to his opposition and get the Orioles hitters to expect fastballs instead of feasting on a hard diet of breaking pitches all evening.

I also know that firmly in the back of his mind, Garza knows that his future Rays starts for the rest of the season might be uncharacteristically limited to about a 100-pitch count and may have actually been a remote cause of the whole nasty scenario. Garza has an “old school” pitchers mentality of wanting the ball every 5 days, and that might be limited in his starts with a possible playoff berth on the horizon. When Garza approached the predetermined 100-pitch mark, Rays Manager Joe Maddon immediately came out of the Rays dugout to replace Garza.

This action immediately sparked another eruption of internal frustrations that ultimately exploded within Garza as he suddenly began to walk off the pitching mound even before his Manager made it out there. You could see the dissolution in both Garza and Maddon’s faces as each passed each other on the grass section of the infield. Both showed visual signs of mutual frustrations by each other’s actions and reactions, and Maddon immediately headed straight for his emotional pitcher to resolve the issue right away upon re-entering the Visitor’s dugout.

 
Mike Fuentes/AP

This is not to say there was not a highly volatile frustration level burning within both of them at that moment because their body language as they talked near the end of the dugout showed that both were open and responsive to each others opinions but highly irritated . Either way, this will not be the last bulletin board fodder provided by a player or pitcher with the game dwindling down and the pressure firmly steeping higher and higher nightly. More and more with the game moving towards zero we will hear snippets and muses escaping from the sanctums of the clubhouses.


For some odd reason I think Garza ended up heading into the Rays clubhouse after last night’s game with a wicked smile across his face. Who knows for sure if Garza pulled a fast one on the Orioles, or if the sharp mind of Maddon changed the course of the game after Garza’s comments. Either way, it was a “W”, and the Rays became another step closer to the Rays clinching their second playoff berth. It could have been a ruse, or it could have been a preamble of emotions and pressure building up among the Rays with the goal in sight.

I loved Showalter’s last comments on Garza’s pre-game outburst:

“That stuff’s real short lived. But in today’s world I bet you somebody here has already asked our players about it. and between the internet and friend and buddies and whatever, there’s not many secrets here.”

Showalter honestly gets it.

 

Shields Needs to Reset the Tone

 

I sat there staring at my big screen for over twenty minutes after Saturday afternoon’s contest between the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. What I saw on that screen reminded me more of a pre-2007 Rays squad. That was the kind of team that got dismantled 17-11 in their games, not this 2010 edition of the Rays. It had the eerie “been here before” vibe of an older version of a Rays contest where the offense had a stride going, but for some god awful reason, the pitching and defense just fell by the wayside producing moment after horrific moment until you just feel numb inside watching the screen.

It was a scene I thought we had finally grown beyond. A action and reaction that was filed away forever, never to be shown the light of day again. I truly thought we had seen the last of the pitching implosion in regards to the Rays staff. It was really difficult to watch the mental and physical disembowelment of Rays starter James Shield’s heart and soul during that debacle. We saw was Rays starter James Shield’s going from “Big Game” to “No Game” in a matter of hours. We were witnesses to the total effect of game day implosion of a pitcher we all used to count on for anything and everything….including ending unexpected losing streaks.

What we saw on that clean and new Astroturf was what happens when a Coaching staff lets a pitcher try to get out of a jam, or two and instead just further takes himself into the darker places and internal elements by missing their location, plus having to turn their back too often to watch balls disappear out of the ballpark. We all personally witnessed a pitcher’s own version of Hades on Earth. During the course of the game we all visualized the blood draining from Shield’s face, and finally exit the mound looking batter, beaten and bewildered beyond even our own twisted beliefs.


I do not know how Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey slept Saturday night. It is one of your responsibilities as a mentor and Coach to try and protect the confidence of the players under your command. To help divert the doubt and dark moments by protecting the pitcher’s delicate psyche, not sit there leaning on the rail popping sunflower seeds into your mouth discussing what comes next. You do not let a your main guy’s confidence meter go to almost empty point because sometimes a pitcher enters that dark place and never fully returns to form after that outing…..ever.

 

Games like this can change careers. It can let a bad image or even event permeate for five days with Shield’s either shaking it off and rebounding effectively, or it can further fester into his inner sanctum of confidence and rattle him to the core. One of the biggest weapons in a Major League Baseball pitcher’s arsenal is his sense of bravado. That swagger and aura of invulnerability is even more of a powerful thing than a well place Change-Up on the corner of the plate. Pitchers’ live and die on their confidence and their image as the keepers of the game. They set the tone, they provide the flow of the game.


If any of that is interrupted or corrupted, it can take a pitcher down a long and winding road of doubting his own stuff. A tendency to second guess any fingers popped down by his catcher. Then ultimately, he could lose himself within the game instead of commanding the game and leading his team. A pitcher’s state of confidence is a fragile thing. Even the biggest ego maniacs on the mound can be rattled and changed by an outing like Shield’s suffered on Saturday. This might be a really huge test for Hickey and his pitching philosophies over the next five days.

 

Either Shield’s will come back onto the mound rejuvenated and ready to pitch again with vigor and vitality, or he will try and foreshadow a bold outer shell with hints of hesitation in his delivery to the plate. One can provide a winning edge for the Rays, the other can take both himself and his team back into that dark place the Rays do not need to venture to again in 2010. Pitcher’s egos are a fragile creature. They need to be nurtured and grown for them to fully develop and provide a confident and strong performance.


Shield’s needs to take the mound for his next outing and show early dominance to effectively recover and push this past performance down into the dark again. He needs to set the tone, provide a winning edge for his teammates to rally around and he has to show that Shield’s swagger again as he strolls from the mound. Game shots of Shield’s after he left the mound on Saturday showed him dazed and confused. People around him were trying to give him positive points, but Shields was already in that dark zone.

Shields needs to climb back out of the darkened pit that embodies his last pitching performance and rise to the occasion again and lead this team. He needs to be the positive force, the striving piece of the puzzle that will lead by example and provide that winning edge again for the Rays. This has to happen. This has to materialize and provide a positive catalyst to regain and return to normal. Either that, or we will have other problems besides just Shields to worry about in the not so distant future. Set the tone James, set the tone.

That Dastardly Injury Bug

 
 

When Tampa Bay Rays reliever J P Howell went down for the 2010 season and had his shoulder surgery, it pushed a disturbing thought into my mind. When was something else devastating going to happen with regards to a Rays player this season? Injuries for some odd reason seem to come in a surreal pattern of 3′s. Instead of having any Rays nagging injuries early on this year, the Rays stayed relatively healthy and injury free as they made their remarkable climb straight to the top of the Major League Baseball mountain, and the injury bug never got a chance to catch up with them.

Deep down, I knew the “big 3″ injury prognosis was coming. The injury bug had been eradicated by the Rays Medical Staff for over 2/3rds of the 2010 season, but I knew the team could not be totally immune to it’s eventual sting. Rays fans knew in their hearts and minds that any injury epidemic, or even a slight clog in the Rays machine could cripple a chance of celebrating in late October. Then without a hint or warning, the Rays had a quick foursome of injuries.
First came the weird occurrence where Rays Centerfielder B J Upton took in a routine fly ball during the first inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers, then suddenly went down to the turf like a sack of potatoes.

 

Somehow the Tropicana Field turf reached up and grabbed Upton by the left ankle and twisted with all of its might. It officially took Upton out of Centerfield for the remaining two against the Tigers, but it also facilitated another injury. Ben Zobrist, who came on and played in Upton’s usual position suddenly felt his back begin to stiffen up, and another Rays soul was claimed unrepentantly by the injury bug.


This time the culprit wasn’t the diabolical turf or the Rays playing surface, but Zobrist’s own personal strive to be a better player and taking a few too many swings in the batting cage. Immediately Zobrist was removed from the Rays line-up and given time to let his back heal to try and facilitate a quick return to the Rays line-up. But now, two injuries could be assigned to the that dastardly invisible injury bug. Then just as quickly, the third member of the Rays suffered another setback on Friday.

During the Rays Batting Practice on Friday night, Rays reliever Grant Balfour and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey were “joking around” on the turf and again, and that spiteful injury bug again reached up from beneath the turf and caused both men to lose their balance and fall to its green surface. Immediately, Balfour became the third and latest victim of the increasing Rays injury bug plight. The injury has been called a “freak occurrence” by the Rays front office, but it was actually a secret covert operation conducted by the injury bug Black Ops corps done under the guise of playful “roughhousing” by Balfour and Hickey.

Balfour will get a 4-6 week unplanned vacation as he strained his intercostal muscle group, which aids in the holding of the ribcage in place, plus promotes adequate breathing. The injury bug had done his black magic in three straight days and had gone 3-3, but it was not done yet. Not even a day after Balfour’s ailment, another member of the Rays core offensive production had an issue of his own that needed attention by the Rays Medical Staff.

 

Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena had been fighting a nagging pain in his right foot for a few days before finally he could not stand the throbbing injury any longer and consulted with the Rays Medical Staff. Immediately Pena was taken out of the Rays line-up and became the fourth Rays in less than a week to get a solid nibble from the injury bug. But there is a ray of light on the immediate horizon in regards to Zobrist and Pena. With both partaking in a few days of rest and attention by the Rays Medical team, both players on Sunday felt a bit of pain relief and decreasing pressure in their troubled areas. Finally the Rays had some good news on the injury front to tell the media and fans.


Zobrist is optimistic he will not be headed to the Disabled List like Balfour and could return to the Rays line-up as soon as Tuesday, or at the latest Thursday during this last stretch of the Rays home stand against the Minnesota Twins. Pena has also let it be known to the Rays Coaching staff that he is also feeling less pain. But the Rays might be extremely cautious with Pena and Zobrist. Rays fans could possibly see one of the two take a few more days off, or one of them could be submitted today to the 15-day Disabled List to make a more solid guarantee that their injury situations are completely resolved and that the team can promote a better chance of no future repercussions down the stretch run of the season.

A two week vacation now could be beneficial and provide a secure cushion of not re-injuring or agitating the injury down the line. Extermination of this injury bug epidemic needs to start now. Nipping it in the bud and promoting health is a top priority of the Rays right now. The injury bug and its lasting effects have devastated a few Major League teams this season like the Boston Red Sox. There is no ample way to detect or predict the injury bug in advance, but the Rays Medical Staff keeps a keen eye out on any agitation or unusual movements by the Rays players during game or their workouts.

With the Rays having one of the best Medical and Training staff in Major League Baseball, the long term effects and the instant discovery of an aliment or injury can be handled in a timely manner. Injuries are a daily fact of life when you play in competitive sports. There is more than ample opportunity for players to try and step outside their usual comfort zones and try and gain an extra advantage or give their team a greater chance to succeed. The injury bug waits for those moments of self sacrifice and sometimes delivers a cruel and unkind result.

Hopefully we have seen the extent of the injury bug’s attempts to plaque this Rays team with unfortunate injuries and unexpected pitfalls. There is no cure for the injury bug. No chemical can eliminate, exterminate or eradicate him completely. But with players being open and honest about their aches and pains, sometimes the warning signs can be observed, and an aliment or injury prevented. This Rays team needs their core intact and healthy for their run here in the last 1/3rd of the 2010 season. Hopefully Ron Porterfield, the Rays Head Trainer is sitting on the bench tonight with an oversized flyswatter to smack that injury bug where he lies…..Dead.
 

The Rebirth of Chad Qualls

 
 
People remarks all the time that sometimes, people need or deserve a second chance in life. That a bad situation or event should not taint or stain a reputation, or cause people to shy away from you or not consider you effective. And there is no better time for that period of renewal, or a second chance to set things right during a Major League Baseball season as when the Trade Deadline expires. And believe me fans, if anyone is thankful for the reversal of past deeds, it is new Tampa Bay Rays reliever Chad Qualls.

Qualls will again get to taste this magical potion that will start his reliever redemption and it all came with just changing his locker from a National League team to an American League squad. Instantly and with no regard to what Qualls had in his dark Arizona closet, with a bad April-June start, instantly all that rubbish and doubting is gone with a blink of the eye. And maybe that is the most unique thing about this time of year. Every Major League Baseball teams is searching for their own answers by seeking out players who could make a substantial contribution over the last third of a season, or maybe provide some added defense or a deceptive pitching performance to put their squad in contention down the stretch.

Something as simple as boosting the power of Rays Bullpen can produce a handful of needed wins that can be the difference between playing into late October, or making airline flight plans with the family to begin the long baseball off season. And if there is one guy that understands this totally after an unusual and often dismal start to his 2010 season, it is Chad Qualls. The right-hander leaves behind in the National League a .370 Opponent’s Batting Average, with a .390 average against left-handed hitters. Something any pitcher would give his non-pitching arm to reverse in a heartbeat.

 

Boosting Qualls want for redemption is the fact as late as last Tuesday, Qualls allowed 2 runs on 2 hits (1 HR ) in 2 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. Adding insult to Qualls open wounds, opponents have scored on Qualls in 5 of his last 7 games to produce a preposterous 11.74 ERA. Qualls has been victimized with 10 Earned Runs in his last 7 innings of work prior to his trade to Tampa Bay. More heart wrenching is the fact that since June 10th, Qualls has been scored on in 10 of his last 16 outings, despite a small reprieve from June 29-July 5th when he threw 4 scoreless innings. But there is a bright spot to all the doom and gloom forecasted already about Qualls 2010 season.


Qualls did convert is 50th career save in2010 season, plus he has converted 11 of his past 13 save appearances prior to his trade to the Rays. Amazing enough, since 2005, Qualls is in the Top five among all relievers in the Major Leagues in games and innings pitched. And is also in the Top Ten of all relievers in wins and holds. All categories that show that effectiveness has not eluded Qualls his entire MLB career.

 

So there is some firm foundation to provide Qualls with another change in a different locale, and with the recent Disabled List visit by Rays reliever Grant Balfour, Qualls might be in line to be the secondary “go-to” guy and assume Balfour’s usual set-up role. Balfour will be out until possibly September with an injury to his intercostals muscle group, which runs between the ribs and helps promote the breathing action. The injury was not obtained during a Rays contest, but during a playful “horsing around” session


Balfour sustained his injury as Balfour and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey were roughhousing around during Batting Practice on Friday night, and both fell suddenly to the Field Turf. Since the Rays were facing a shortage of veteran experience in their minor league system, they decided to give Qualls a chance to erase the horrors of his miserable first half as a member of the Diamondbacks hoping that his latest chance with the Rays will not bring with Qualls any of his D-back nightmarish results that could rear its ugly head again and forsake the Rays for giving him a chance to start all over again in the American League.

 

Qualls has been given the grand opportunity to showcase himself over the rest of the Rays season to give adequate proof that his days as a questionable reliever are long gone. And that his new Rays reliever new image will emerge and show the confidence and productive nature needed for a chance at 2011 employment.

Second chances in sports do come, and if Qualls makes the most of his rebirth with the Rays, he could effectively salvage and possibly erase his horrid start to 2010 with a powerful and confirming last few months. And the magnitude of the overall situation is not lost on Qualls. Prior to Saturday night’s game against the New York Yankees, Qualls told the St. Petersburg Times,


“The majority of my text messages were, ‘Now you’ve got 0.00 ERA.’ That’s a great thing.”

 

Qualls has a clean slate, a chance to redeem himself and provide a solid answer to the Rays Bullpen over the course of the season. And with Qualls undoubtedly becoming a Free Agent at the end of the 2010 season, he could make a compelling case for someone to take another chance on him in 2011,maybe even the Rays But that is one of the glories of this time of year in Major League Baseball. Things can be erased and forgotten within a moment’s notice.

New beginnings can revitalize and reenergize a player to provide a solid performance for his new club. And a career once in peril can again be reborn brand new and full of hope and promise. Who says Christmas doesn’t come at the end of July?
 

Is This Cheating, or being Informed?

 


 

 


Baseball has endured all kinds of horrors and indiscretions over its duration. There has been the Spitball or doctoring the ball Era, the Dead Ball Era, Live Ball Era, and of course, the recent Steroid Era. But for some reason, I am beginning to think Major League Baseball might be entering into another new and systematically devastating era that has just starting to peak its way over the horizon…. I am beginning to think we are just on the threshold of the Electronic Era.

With the advancements in electronics, video equipment and also audio response devices, the whole scenario has endless possibilities. There are now people assigned to the job of breaking down a opposing pitcher’s mechanics to show indications of what pitch might be coming out of their hand at any particular moment. Teams have endless research and statistics at their fingertips from web sources and in-house agencies like Bloomberg Sports. And then there are the players who seek every advantage to get the upper hand on their competition, not just to gain a “W”, but to get added motivation and confidence. This Era could be the most devastating to the sport.

 

 

You might wonder why I am beginning to bring such matters up, why I am focusing on this one item that could explode and show that technology has made it was onto the field, and that one recent discovery, maybe by accident, could show that violations could already be effecting the game I love. It is not like Major League Baseball players will take an edge or any advantage they can get and throw it out the window if it is in a gray area. But when they step into that black and white area where few dare to tread for repercussions and penalties, that is when I am concerned.


 

 

Tuesday night during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the San Diego Padres, I first heard a few mumbles from a few faithful Rays fans of a certain player maybe having a “cheat sheet” in his back pocket on the field. Now I know players are allowed to have a small laminated sheet to illustrate maybe fielding positional changes, and maybe even give a heads up to hitting tendencies to a certain spot, or gap. But as I watched this player kind of without immediate attention that night something began to stir.


 

 

There I was again remembering how I used to use tactics of my own to get an edge in sports. I was not a dirty player, but if you let me have an advantage, I did take it and run every time. And the fielding “cheat sheets” by Padres Tony Gwynn Junior and Will Venable did not bother me until I personally saw something else pop out of Venable’s pocket on Wednesday night. From that moment on, for the rest of the night, I saw him take out both a laminated card and read it before certain Rays hitters, and then something else seemed to have come out of his pocket, and it shocked me.


In this blog I decided to include both the partially blown up photos to show the item in Venable’s hand, plus the original photo so you can download and blow it up in any shape or form for yourself to show that this item was bigger and more pronounced than the smaller white edged laminated sheet. It seemed that Venable might have been using a P D A or I-phone, or some other form of electronic items while he was camped in Rightfield at Tropicana Field. It shocked me at first, but then I realized that maybe it might be permissible during this type of series since the Rays and Padres would play only this small 3-game series, then maybe not see each other for another 6-8 years, unless it is in the World Series.

 

 

Fran Fusco, who has a long history of baseball in their family blood (she is the sister of ex-Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman) first alerted me to the situation on Wednesday night before the game. A few other Rays fans in the stands also gave their vocal interpretations to the events of the previous night, so I decided to try and find out for myself, see if this is really happening, or was just a mirage caused by the reflective lights of the Trop. hitting the paper at a weird angle. Wish I could say it was all a figment of our collective imaginations, but it was as real as Carlos Pena hitting an opposite field Home Run, or Matt Garza’s goatee.

 

 

So after the game I showed the pictures to a member of the Rays Radio Network, and he asked me to forward the photos to him for further examination. He also asked me not to bring attention the knowledge of these photos for a day, which I was more than happy to oblige since I had not been able to blow them up properly while sitting in the seating bowl. But when I did blow up two of the photos later that night at home, there was a distinctive difference in the shapes and sizes of the two items in question…The plot thickened immediately.


 

 

I especially paid close attention to Venable’s left back pants pocket that was showed a huge change in the shape of his right pocket, which had a pair of batting gloves sticking out of them. The rectangular shape could have been a tri-folded laminated card, but there was also a dim light source that could not be formed by the lighting pattern within Tropicana Field, so the mystery got thicker and thicker for me. I kind of half paid attention, but still got some good shots of the pocket, and Venable taking either item out to glance at it between innings, or during pitching changes that night.


 

 

Venable was definitely using the chart or device to gain an advantage or educate himself on the Rays tendencies during that contest. I first noticed him looking at the chart/device during Rays D H Hank Blalock’s plate appearance, then during pitching changes of two Padres relievers, Rick Webb and Mike Adams. Venable was so nonchalant about the items in his left rear pocket that it really did not alarm me that night. But after the game the Rays front office member I sent the photos to, plus the urgency of that transfer told me I might have stumbled on something here.

 

 

I got a rumor floated to me that Venable had told a few members of the Rays that it ” was a laminated card”, which in a few of the photos it definitely looked like just that, but a few of the other photos, there was a darker item that was thicker and more like a portable device than a simple one-ply piece of paper with lamination on it. I had heard through the Rays grapevine before Thursday afternoon’s game that three other Rays fans had reported the event, plus one writing a letter to the National League President Frank Robinson about the episode. So with so many people now showing extreme attention to this set of events, I carefully studied and watched Venable with extreme precision on Thursday.


Sixteen times in Thursdays match-up Venable went to his back pocket in plain sight of everyone in the stands, to check his card. This time he made it clear and evident to everyone that it was indeed a card and not anything else. He even did it at multiple angles to give any camera now trained on him an exclusive look and possible angle to show he was in compliance during that game. It was also during Thursdays contest that I also saw Gywnn bring out his card during a break in the action. The Padres had definitely heard someone was watching them, and they played the game to the fullest.

 

 

And it is alarming to me that this kind of event could be going on at other games and venues right now. I can understand using these kind of devices in the clubhouse, or even the dugout to inform and help players adjust accordingly for games. But if this technology creeps into the fabric of the game during play in the field, that is where I personally draw a line in the clay. There are Coaches on either bench who can adjust or even sway a defensive alignment with a hand gesture, and there are charts that can be reviewed between innings to help guide a impromptu adjustment. But electronic devices need to stay outside the lines.


 

 

There are already too many calls for reviews, electronic strike zones to complicate the game instead of simplify it. If there is an Electronic Era evolving around the game as I predict, hopefully we can keep it off the field and in the dark where it belongs. Not darkness to not acknowledge its existence, but darkness to keep prying eyes way from vital information that each team collects and administers at the right moment. One of the reason kids take up the game of baseball is not for the team building skills but for the simplicity of the game. Throw the ball, hit the ball, run to the base.


If this violation is found to warrant further review it will not change the outcome of the Rays two losses during this series, but it could be an indication that some people are seeing loopholes in the system. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey came over before Thursdays contest and asked me what I had seen the night before. I immediately let him know I transferred photos to a Rays team official, and that the photos were now also in the Rays hands to do what they will with them.

 

I am not out to get someone in trouble, suspended or even fined for something that happened during that Rays versus Padres series. But I want fairness to be achieved. I want the Rays to know that nothing is going on that gives another team an advantage. I learned as a young kid that “cheaters never prosper.” Hopefully that old quote also applies to the MLB too.
 

Will Venable Photo Album 6/24/2010

Really Joe, the Blackhawks?

 
 
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Believe me, I understand the Tampa Bay Rays and their anti-Philadelphia baseball-related sentiments after also personally enduring some of that civic indigestion following the conclusion of the 2008 World Series against the “City of Brotherly Love”. And I truly get Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sense of irony and side joke the Tampa Bay Rays team possibly all wearing Chicago Blackhawks jerseys with the Chi-town team opening the 2010 Stanley Cup finals in Philadelphia this Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. But really Joe, wearing Blackhawks gear?

I might be the only one thinking on this vein, but I find it a bit confusing that the Rays squad is even considering wearing Chicago Blackhawk custom made hockey sweaters minutes after we conclude our 3-game series against a team that resides in the South side of Chi-town. I totally get and support Maddon on his creative idea to showcase Canada’s National sport since we are heading to Toronto following Sunday’s finale against the White Sox, but maybe wearing Blackhawks gear is a bit too much for me?

Not sure if that is a great way to bolster any additional Tampa Bay civic pride towards the Rays and possibly get more Rays fans to flock to the Trop. if you send a weird mix signal like this to the Rays Republic. This to me would be like me wearing my Cooperstown replica 1919 White Sox jersey to tonight’s Rays game and not being considered a “bandwagon” fan or even an outsider. And I commend Maddon for once again thinking extremely outside-the-box in boosting his squad’s morale and chemistry by bringing up the idea of wearing NHL hockey jerseys on their upcoming 6-game road trip’s first stop in to Toronto, but couldn’t we have asked the Tampa Bay Lightning first?

 
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Maybe I am being a bit too “civic sensitive” here in thinking the Lightning might consider outfitting the Rays squad with their own jerseys especially since several current Rays players (Evan Longoria, B J Upton) and former Rays (Toby Hall, Scott Kazmir) have been known to wander around the Lightning locker room. And I could see Maddon possibly putting on a number 11 jersey of Chicago Blackhawk center John Madden at another moment in time, but not this weekend. Leave it to Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to fuel the anti-Phillies fires with a nice cheeky statement in a US Today story on May 26th:


“Nothing like a little pro-Chicago, anti-Philadelphia sentiment. I thought we could share our mutual dislike for Philadelphia sports teams.”

 
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But then again, this just might be my fault being a bit uber sensitive to this region’s plight to right the Rays attendance woes, then seeing a indirect signal from the Rays Coaching staff that flushes the past glory of their own hometown hockey franchise that used to play their NHL contests in the same confines as the Rays just perplexes me at the moment. How many people remember the sight of so many Tampa Bay hockey fans swarming the aisles of Tropicana Field, then the Thunderdome, to set the past record for a NHL post season playoff attendance record (25,945). It was a sign that hockey had finally come to this region and been embraced by the fans.

Maybe I am reading too much into this and not seeing the true tongue-in-cheek anti-Brotherly love concept for what it is…..a way for this Rays club to maybe find common ground right now. In that aspect, it is a great humorous idea, but the overall timing and team selection definitely sucks to me.

 
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Sure, I might not have had a single thought about it all if we had played Boston this weekend, or maybe even Cleveland. But the fact that the Windy City’s other MLB squad is seated in our own visitor’s clubhouse, and this Rays team will be sporting their hometown’s NHL gear on the bus to St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport, then fly directly to Toronto definitely evoke a bit of additional indigestion.


Joe, got to say I loved the conceptual idea, but I personally hate the final result.
 
 
 
 
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